When writing a book you often have difficult decisions to make when it comes to the final edits. So it was when I wrote French Fried: One man’s move to France with too many animals and an identity thief. Reading though the book, I felt that it took too long to get to the identity theft part of the book and decided to cut one of the chapters – which was a shame as it contained some of my favourite scenes. Here’s one of them: The Optician, the Receptionist, and the Skirting Board.
In the month before we moved to France we decided to have a thorough check up – opticians, dentists, doctors, the lot. It seemed a sensible course of action when exchanging a largely free health service for something entirely unknown.
Unfortunately we caught the optician on a bad day.
I thought the receptionist’s behaviour somewhat strange. Asking the customer if they really wanted to go through with their appointment is not normal front desk procedure.
“He is a locum,” the receptionist pressed. “Not the usual optician. You can re-book if you want.”
She did everything but beg us to run for our lives. But we were not to be swayed, our eyes needed checking and God knows when we’d be able to master enough of the French alphabet to risk an examination in France.
Shelagh went in first – half expecting to see a Transylvanian hunchback – but instead was met by a perfectly normal optician in his mid-thirties. A perception that persisted for several minutes – that is until she let slip the reason for her appointment – our imminent emigration to France.
“France!” he spluttered. “Don’t talk to me about France!”
There then followed a potted life history of an optician’s sorry slip down life’s ladder. And very sorry it was. He’d had his own practice – a thriving one – and then exchanged it all for an even larger one in France. He’d had several shops, a new life, boundless possibilities.
And then lost it all.
Cheated by banks and business partners and I think half of the French population during the final stages, he’d sunk into a morass of debt and had to sell up and come home. Not that there’d been much left to sell. He’d even lost money on his house. His purchasers and the notaire added to the long list of French nationals who’d cheated, connived and generally done him wrong.
This was not a happy optician.
And now he was home again trying to rebuild a shattered life. Filling in for opticians who could afford to go off on holiday – probably to France.
Shelagh thought it best to steer the conversation as far away from France as possible at that point. Having your eyes probed by a man muttering to himself about Gallic conspiracies is not generally seen as a good thing.
Neither it appeared was asking for a sight test for glasses while wearing contact lenses.
“Don’t you want a test for contact lenses?” he asked.
“Well, I did. But the receptionist said you only did glasses.”
And then he was off again. Half of Devon added to the Gallic conspiracy.
“I can do contact lenses!” he exclaimed in a mixture of disbelief and rising indignation. Was the whole world against him? “I do contacts! I do glasses. I do the lot! I’m an optician!”
And then a lot of muttering. Luckily he hadn’t been in France long enough to pick up the spitting and ritual grinding of the spittle into the carpet.
But he wasn’t far off.
“Why did she say that?” he continued to no-one in particular, walking off into the far corner of the consulting room, pushing his hands through his hair and looking one step away from curling up into a ball against the skirting board.
Never a good sign for an optician.
It was about at this point that the phone rang in reception. I was sitting nearby and the caller had a loud voice, so I heard most of what followed.
“Is he all right?” a woman’s voice began worriedly.
“I think so. So far, anyway,” came the reply in hushed conspiratorial tones and nervous looks towards the consulting room door.
“He hasn’t…” The voice hung in an open question mark, unable to frame the terrible conclusion to the question. What hadn’t he? I inclined an ear closer to the conversation, shuffled to the edge of the chair. What was happening behind that door?
“No,” said the receptionist, shaking her head. “Well, not yet anyway.”
We both cast anxious looks towards the door.
“I’m sure he’ll be all right,” continued the receptionist in a voice that underlined the fact that she was convinced of the exact opposite.
Back inside the consulting room a depressed locum fought his way back from the siren call of the skirting board and cast a veneer of professionalism over his sinking spirits. He would continue with the sight test. He was a professional. Whatever anyone else said.
When it was my turn, I walked in, settled down in the chair, smiled a lot and cast beams of well being and general bonhomie in all directions. I was taking no chances.
“And what can I do for you?” he started brightly.
“Well, I’m about to move to France…”